This is a question that we hear a lot in 9-1-1. People want to know why we ask so many questions instead of just sending help. The first, easy answer is that we are not asking questions INSTEAD of sending help; but rather, are asking questions WHILE sending help. In Louisa County, fire and EMS calls are required to be dispatched within ninety seconds of receiving the call, providing that there is adequate information for dispatch. High-priority law enforcement calls are dispatched as soon as there is a location and the type of incident determined. Less serious law enforcement calls are managed and prioritized by the Dispatchers and dispatched as soon as possible based on available units, information, and priority.
There are multiple reasons that dispatchers ask additional questions after responders have been dispatched. For ambulance calls, the dispatchers use a sophisticated system of questions, pre-arrival medical instructions, and priorities. By following these instructions given to callers, patients can begin to receive care even before EMS has arrived. The answers to the questions determine which instructions the caller is going to be given and also determine the level of EMS training the ambulance needs to have to handle the call. The closest ambulance is always sent to medical emergencies, but if the closest ambulance is basic life support (BLS, staffed with EMT-Bs) and the answer to one or more of the questions indicates that the type of emergency needs an advanced life support ambulance (ALS, staffed with Paramedics), then an ALS ambulance or response car can be dispatched to respond with the closest ambulance.
Dispatchers are also highly trained in how to evaluate the dangerous situations that callers are in and give instructions to that caller to keep them as safe as possible until help arrives. These situations can include victims of active violence, bystanders near active shooters, and people trapped in a burning house, just to name a few. Another huge responsibility of the 9-1-1 Dispatchers is ensuring that the responders are safe. Dispatchers will ask questions that help them determine how safe the scene is and information about where and what type of unsafe conditions there are. This information helps responders determine the need for additional units and how to approach scenes to ensure their own safety. We do everything we can to make sure that our responders make it home to their own families.
The important thing to keep in mind when a 9-1-1 Dispatcher is asking questions is that, as long as the location and nature of the emergency have been obtained, help is already on the way. 9-1-1 Dispatchers have a very important job to do. Dispatchers are highly trained and experienced at quickly and efficiently handling multiple tasks, gathering information, and controlling calls. Remaining calm, answering the dispatchers’ questions, and following the dispatchers’ instructions are VERY important and can have a positive outcome in your emergency. And remember, those questions and instructions do not cause any delay in the emergency response.